Nigeria, Africa’s most populous black nation has produced wonderful sportsmen and women in the sporting arena who ranked among the best in the world. Beginning from football, boxing, wrestling, basketball and athletics to mention but a few, the role of corporate bodies and individuals in bankrolling sports development from the grassroots has remained the driving force of Nigeria’s success story in sports.
Needless to say, apart from religion, sport is the only forum that can bring people together for a common goal. It is possible that sport, through the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.), and the International Sports Federations could succeed where the United Nations has failed to promote world peace.
Since sports can play such important roles, in the process of national development as outlined above, there must be deliberate plans to promote and develop sports on a wide scale in order to achieve maximum benefits as FirstBank is currently doing.
As a kicker, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of some companies like FirstBank towards sports development in Nigeria is the focus of this piece and deserves mention at least to serve as a tonic for Corporate Nigeria to emulate.
Aside the fact that the activities in the sports industry is huge and drives the economy of most nations of the world, the gains of youths or individuals engaging in sports are enormous. No wonder First Bank of Nigeria Limited, a prime promoter of sports activities in Nigeria through the initiative First@sports has engaged in several sports sponsorship as part of their contribution to promote social cohesion, empowerment and national development.
As noted earlier, the intrinsic and universal value of sport cannot be quantified. Sport as a universal language can be a powerful tool to promote peace, tolerance and understanding by bringing people together across boundaries, cultures and religions. Its intrinsic values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline, respect for the opponent and the rules of the game are understood all over the world and can be harnessed in the advancement of solidarity, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence which First@sports depicts.
According to a UN Special report, sport programmes permit encounters on neutral territory and in an environment where aggression can be controlled, regulated and transformed and hence facilitates rapprochement and reconciliation between opposing parties.
For example, many UN funds, programmes and specialised agencies have used and continued to use sport programmes to achieve their objectives, just as FirstBank has continuously committed its resources in this regard.
Throwing more light on the intrinsic and universal value of sports, a UN report revealed that in June 2009, a football tournament was organised by the UN peacekeeping operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), bringing together the armed forces of the rebel-led FAFN and the government-led FDS to promote reconciliation and unity.
Here in Nigeria, the story remains the same, as the country enjoys relative peace each time our sportsmen and women are representing the country in international sporting events like the Olympics or FIFA World Cup competitions.
Frankly, sport is a crowd puller and has been used on many occasions to keep our youths busy, especially away from crime. Engagement of Nigerians through FirstBank’s First@sports initiative has continued to promote unity, peace and cohesion among the diverse ethnic groups in the country.
FirstBank’s role in driving nation building through First@sports initiative could be seen in its continuous sponsorship of ‘The Georgian Cup Polo’ tourney which had its maiden edition 95 years ago.
The Bank, then known as Bank of British West Africa, sponsored ‘The Georgian Cup Polo’ tournament in Kaduna and after 95 years, the tournament has become a heritage in the trajectory of polo in West Africa.
By this singular act, FirstBank is truly playing a key role in sports development, by building partnerships among dignitaries, Emirs, diplomatic corps, captains of industries and others who attend the event yearly, thus promoting sustainable development.
Aside the aforementioned, FirstBank is a prime promoter of Golf in Nigeria and has for 54 years supported the development of golf through the FirstBank Lagos Amateur Open Golf Championship, held annually at the Ikoyi Golf Club. The major aim of the tourney is to build and deepen relationships among the Bank’s customers and the general public.
Another aim of the tourney, according to the organisers, is that it helps in capacity building and business development in the game of golf. Through their invitation of Golf professionals to the tourney, new talents at FirstBank Lagos Amateur Open Golf Championship are nurtured, while the experienced golfers were made stronger; this is in addition to the Caddie Shed built on the golf course years ago.
FirstBank also has been a premium promoter of the Dala Hard Court Tennis Championship for over 25 years. The championship is a major and only Tennis tourney recognised throughout the Northern Region of Nigeria. It is endorsed by the Nigeria Tennis Federation (NTF) and the competition attracts players from Nigeria and neighbouring African countries which is commendable.
It is worthy to note at this point that in May 2016, FirstBank’s Women Basketball Team – The Elephant Girls – won the 2015/2016 Zenith Bank Women’s Basketball Championship for the 7th time out of 12 editions. The FirstBank team is the current FIBA Africa Zone 3 champion and they were also champions of the FIBA Africa Women’s Clubs Champions Cup in 2003 and 2009 respectively.
In 2003, the Elephant Girls represented Nigeria at the International Women Basketball Competition held in Brazil which helped to expose the players to world-class basketball action.
In athletics, FirstBank has not been found wanting as the bank actively supported its grassroots sports development policy through strategic sponsorships and partnerships.
Athletics as a sport requires strong qualities of resilience and focus, thus, FirstBank’s endorsement of an athletics brand ambassador not only aligns with its core values of Passion, Partnership and People, but also reflects the Bank’s brand promise to deliver the gold standard of value and excellence.
In January 2016, FirstBank announced Blessing Okagbare, Nigeria’s ‘Queen of Track’ and Africa’s fastest woman as its Brand ambassador. The Bank’s relationship with Blessing dates back to the 2012 London Olympics when the Bank promoted her as Nigeria’s best track and field athlete.
With a large collection of medals in track and field events, Okagbare embodies the strong qualities of resilience and excellence of FirstBank which also reflects its brand promise to deliver the gold standard of value and excellence to its teeming customers.
FirstBank’s endorsement of Blessing is a proof of the Bank’s support for talent nurturing; to further propel the youth towards the achievement of their dreams while it underpins the Bank’s stance to collaborate with its stakeholders and provide support in all aspects of their lives.
From the foregoing, FirstBank’s major focus areas in the development of athletics could be seen in enabling youth development.
The Bank recognises that every youth has inherent talent, which must be unearthed for personal fulfillment, economic mobility and national development. They also recognise that for millions of youth, this talent is in athletics!
Beyond supporting grassroots development in athletics, FirstBank showcases to the world, athletics talents that have been groomed from the grassroots. They know that exposing these talents opens doors of opportunities for them, so the Bank leverages on partnerships, platforms and reputation in athletics to propel these talents forward, catalyzing their sustainable development and mobility, and the realization of their dreams.
From the foregoing, FirstBank’s First@sports initiative underpins the core values of Passion, Partnership and People, which form the bedrock of every sustainable development.
The commitment of people or individuals in First@sports initiative also helps promote a healthy mind and a healthy body.
FirstBank’s First@sports further creates social cohesion among participants that will build the values of passion, dedication perseverance and focus and lay a foundation for nation building and provides a platform for youth empowerment, driving their potentials to meet the challenges in a competitive world.
Finally, FirstBank’s commitment to sports development is unquantifiable because it promotes economic empowerment, develops sports and sportsmanship in Nigeria, creates cohesiveness in the society and improve national unity in the long run which the country direly needs to rank among the best in the sporting world.